To whom does (or will) the twenty-first century belong? At least to the extent that the latter half of the twentieth belonged to the United States. The majority of observers are betting on China, including the ‘declinist’ school, which may not have heard of Mark Twain’s cable to an editor when his obituary was published in the latter’s newspaper. The US has at times been in better shape during its relatively short history than it is today, and
the peer competitor is stronger than any other in the past. However, writing off the US, and its wide circle of military, political, and economic allies as doomed, would be premature. Unfortunately, however, the US has shot itself in the foot: it is doing its very best to tear its society apart, and to abandon a number of the values it has been admired for—in a word, it is ceasing by degrees to be ‘a (shining) city upon a hill’. As a matter of fact, there is one thing Washington need not worry about: China is not likely to replace the US as king of the metaphorical hill any time in the future, at least as a spiritual model. China may become the largest economy, may produce the largest amount of steel and iron and cars and computers, but it will be a hard sell for Beijing to win the ‘hearts’ of people around the world. It is worth remembering Prince Talleyrand, who remarked that ‘You can do many things with bayonets except sit on them’. Applying the idea to modern China: money can buy many things, but the intangible things are as important as the tangible ones. Indeed, history has taught us, among other things, that they may be even more potent. The Roman law, the Code Civil, and the Declaration of Independence (yes, against all attempts to discredit its historic importance), were as important to the establishment of empires (or global hegemony) as weapons and money. The US was able to beat a radical leftist ideology; however, it seems to be at a loss to fight a basically non-ideological, pragmatic power. The prediction of a twenty-first century belonging to China may become self-fulfilling prophecy if the Americans forget what has made them the envy of the world and the champion of values which are being distorted and attacked in their own country. Unforced errors on this magnitude are bound to have dire consequences—and not only for the US itself.